Skip to content

PHT’s Pressing Questions: Will Toronto finally make the playoffs?

Jan 16, 2013, 12:20 PM EST

Toronto Maple Leafs v Vancouver Canucks Getty Images

Every day until the season starts we’ll explore an intriguing storyline for the upcoming year.

Last April, Florida’s gain was Toronto’s pain.

When the Panthers clinched a playoff spot on Apr. 5, they snapped the NHL’s longest postseason drought — 12 years — and passed that depressing mantle onto the Leafs.

It’s been seven years since the Leafs last made the playoffs. The last time they did it, in 2003-04, the roster included the likes of Mats Sundin, Joe Nieuwendyk, Ron Francis, Ed Belfour and Brian Leetch.

All five of those guys are now in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

So yeah, long time.

Long time.

For one of the league’s most storied franchises — one recently fired GM Brian Burke called the “crown jewel” and “Vatican” of the NHL — that stretch of futility is unacceptable.

Which brings us to the question at hand:

Will the futility end this season?

If the early parts of training camp were any indication, there’s not a lot of optimism.

Toronto began the campaign in the most dysfunctional way imaginable — by firing Burke, the club’s outspoken architect.

His dismissal went down almost exactly as many figured it would, with a hailstorm of controversy, sound bites and unanswered questions as to why owners decided to turf the GM eight days prior to the start of a condensed regular season.

That hasn’t been the only distraction in Leaf land, either.

The goaltending situation — the bane of Burke’s four-year existence — is as convoluted as ever. Talks of an impending Roberto Luongo acquisition continue to swirl and, should that trade never come to fruition, there’s debate over which in-house candidate would be No. 1.

Former No. 1 James Reimer should be the starter by default, but he hasn’t played a competitive game since March 2011. He’s also looked shaky in camp and could be surpassed by Ben Scrivens, who has been playing frequently in the AHL and, according to CBC’s Glen Healy, looks like a confident goalie.

“Just looking at Scrivens’s body language, he seems to have a lot of swagger,” said Healy. “The biggest thing for goaltenders is that six inches between your ears — that belief that you can accomplish what you want to accomplish. That you can do it. That you’ve got confidence.

“His emergence into [the NHL] game could not be better timed, with the lockout ending and a lot of other players not playing.”

As for other personnel, the Leafs didn’t upgrade much from a roster that finished 13th in the Eastern Conference a year ago.

James van Riemsdyk came aboard (at the expense of losing Luke Schenn) and checking center Jay McClement was signed in free agency. Morgan Rielly, the fifth overall pick at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, could challenge for a roster spot, but is only 18 years old.

Which means Toronto might be seeking improvement from within.

To that end, the Leafs should have some optimism. One of the biggest disappointments from last year was Nikolai Kulemin, who saw his goal production decrease from 30 in 2010-11 to seven in 2011-12.

The 30-year-old Russian was active during the lockout, playing with Magnitogorsk of the KHL, racking up 38 points in 36 games.

He’s just one of a number of Leafs that need to improve from disappointing 2011-12 campaigns (others, to name a few: Tim Connolly, Cody Franson, Mike Komisarek, John-Michael Liles.)

But really, improvement has to come across the board. The only way the Leafs are going to make the playoffs is if everything about the team gets better, something head coach Randy Carlyle acknowledges.

“I’ve left the message with the players in departing last year that we were not competitive enough in all three zones,” Carlyle explained. “We have to be prepared to go — if you want to call it war in some situations, so be it — we want to be able to compete night in, night out, for every puck, every faceoff.

“That’s the message that’s been delivered. That’s the type of style we’re expected to play.”

Related

For all the PHT Pressing Questions, click here.

Latest Posts
  1. Overtime/shootout drama becoming the norm in Florida

    Dec 24, 2014, 7:51 PM EST

    Roberto Luongo Getty Images

    “It’s like a little miracle down here.”

  2. Scoring change gives Nash his first Rangers hat trick

    Dec 24, 2014, 6:40 PM EST

    Nash goal

    It was initially credited to Martin St. Louis.

  3. Hextall impressed by Zepp, but cautious when predicting his future

    Dec 24, 2014, 5:54 PM EST

    Rob Zepp Getty Images

    Will he eventually earn a full-time NHL roster spot?

  4. Lightning returns top goalie prospect Vasilevskiy to AHL

    Dec 24, 2014, 4:31 PM EST

    Andrei Vasilevskiy Getty Images

    His stint with the Lightning was brief, but memorable.

  5. Video: PHT’s top five moments from 2014

    Dec 24, 2014, 3:28 PM EST

    2014 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Five Getty Images

    Not surprisingly, the Kings feature prominently.

  6. Scott suspended four games for punch that was ‘neither predictable, nor acceptable’

    Dec 24, 2014, 2:22 PM EST

    San Jose Sharks v Anaheim Ducks Getty Images

    League rules that Jackman wasn’t expecting to be punched, “nor should he be.”

  7. Sens take next step towards new downtown arena

    Dec 24, 2014, 12:23 PM EST

    Eugene Melnyk Getty Images

    Owner Eugene Melnyk has called the potential move a “game-changer.”

  8. Is Loui Eriksson starting to get it together?

    Dec 24, 2014, 11:18 AM EST

    LouiEriksson Getty Images

    “We’re seeing some of his best hockey,” Claude Julien said.

  9. ‘Las Vegas is a hockey city,’ Foley tells prospective ticket buyers

    Dec 24, 2014, 11:18 AM EST

    LasVegasHockey

    And they’re planning to start taking deposits for the 2016-17 season.

  10. Avs ultimately plan on sending Pickard back to AHL

    Dec 24, 2014, 10:24 AM EST

    Calvin Pickard AP

    Semyon Varlamov’s shutout probably makes that a more comfortable idea.

  11. Sabres aren’t happy with league’s decision regarding Bartkowski

    Dec 24, 2014, 9:43 AM EST

    Matt Bartkowski, Marcus Foligno, Brian Gionta AP

    A controversial check left Buffalo winger Brian Gionta injured.

  12. Jagr: ‘A break? I don’t believe in this’

    Dec 24, 2014, 12:30 AM EST

    Jaromir Jagr Getty Images

    The Devils enter the Christmas holidays on a two-game skid.

  13. Tyler Johnson’s hat trick leads Lightning over Penguins

    Dec 23, 2014, 11:00 PM EST

    Carolina Hurricanes v Tampa Bay Lightning Getty Images

    Tampa rookie Andrei Vasilevskiy picked up his second career win.

  14. Leafs reach 20 win mark in victory over Stars

    Dec 23, 2014, 10:30 PM EST

    ANAHEIM, CA - MARCH 10: Jonathan Bernier #45 of the Toronto Maple Leafs sprays water on his face during the first period against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center on March 10, 2014 in Anaheim, California. Getty Images

    Bernier made 43 saves for the shutout

Featured video

Holiday wish lists for NHL teams
Top 10 NHL Player Searches
  1. S. Crosby (3222)
  2. B. Bishop (3215)
  3. B. Elliott (2540)
  4. C. Perry (2478)
  5. J. Schwartz (2366)
  1. S. Varlamov (1904)
  2. J. Howard (1900)
  3. S. Mason (1778)
  4. C. Crawford (1759)
  5. T. Johnson (1743)